Leontine Cooper was born 22 April 1837 in Battersea, London, England, and immigrated to Moreton Bay on the Royal Dane, arriving on 30 November 1871. She  was Queensland’s most significant writer addressing the rights of white women during the movement for woman suffrage in that state. By the late 1880s she had emerged as one of the key activists who contributed to progressive movements in Australian political life and Australian feminism. Leontine died on 12 March 1903 and is buried in the Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.

A brilliant writer, highly articulate and perspicacious, Léontine Cooper shared the vision of the great southern land as offering a bounteous future for aspiring European immigrants, especially educated single women. But it was a dream not so easily realised and, when Cooper’s husband failed to make a living on the land in the 1870s, she began teaching and took up her pen. Léontine Cooper became a courageous harbinger of cultural, social, economic and political transformation for women, and by the fin de siècle, unique across the colonies as a ‘lady writer’ and political and community leader. Alive to gendered cultural relativism, hers was a major contribution to shaping and challenging the grand narratives of women’s rights, and Australian progressivism, founded as they often were in the mistaken beliefs of terra nullus.

The eldest of nine siblings, Léontine Buisson was educated in the inner-London and then at Brighton where the family moved after her own father was bankrupted. Her mother died ten years later.  Léontine with her sisters studied moral philosophy and natural history at the women-only Bedford College. Her father later re-married, to have another large family. Married herself in 1866, Léontine followed Edward Peter Cooper out to Queensland in 1871 where he had taken up a land selection, after the breakup of large pastoral stations.  Léontine’s youngest brother and his family also emigrated.

Léontine worked at a one teacher school at Chinaman’s Creek (Albany Creek) opened after compulsory education was introduced. She then taught French at the Brisbane Girls Grammar. Throughout the 1880s she published at least six novels and over thirty short stories set in Queensland, but her talents were better realised in her extraordinary often excoriating essays as she engaged with the European intellectual debates for a local audience. She wrote for the Courier, the Queenslander, the Telegraph, and the Boomerang  with a regular column for Louisa Lawson’s feminist journal Dawn and the Early Closing Advocate, on a wide range of subjects from Victor Hugo and injustice, married lives and sexual politics, to masculine larrikanism and the environment.

 She was active in the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty for both children and animals; involved with meetings to support the emigration of young educated single women; on the board of the lively School of Arts; and participated in the Brisbane Literary Circle and Home Reading Union. She was a secretary of the short lived Women’s Suffrage League 1889 to 1891, and in 1891 appointed to represent the government on the Royal Commission on Factories, Shops and Workshops. She was elected long term president of the Women’s Franchise League 1894 to1903 and was co-editor and proprietor of Queensland’s only suffrage magazine the Star. In the late 1890s she was the founding president of the Pioneer Club, one of Brisbane’s first progressive women’s club. With Jane Harris, she edited Flashes, a women’s magazine.

Léontine Cooper was one of Australia’s most significant nineteenth-century feminist public intellectuals, well networked across the colonies. Yet a number of factors mitigated against ongoing recognition of the importance of her work including her use of pseudonyms and the serial publication of her novels in newspapers. Six months after her husband passed away, Leonine Cooper died suddenly of pneumonia in 1903.  Mary Lloyd wrote her epitaph: Queensland’s ‘ablest franchise writer’.


Archival Resources

Qld Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death registration, Leontine Mary Jane Cooper, d. 12 Dec 1903

Registration ID 1903/C/4639

Queensland State Archives; Registers of Immigrant Ships' Arrivals, Royal Dane, 1870-1871

Series ID 13086; Roll: M1697; ITM18476, p. 167 of register


Deborah Jordan, Australian Women’s Justice: Settler Colonisation and the Queensland Vote

London, New York: Routledge

Audrey Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia: A Gift or a Struggle?

Melbourne: Cambridge University Press


‘Brisbane Literary Circle: The Quest for Universal Culture’. Leanne Day, Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 63, 1999, pp. 87-93.

‘‘‘There Is No Question More Perplexing at the Present Time and More Frequently Discussed than Women’s Place in Society”: Léontine Cooper and the Queensland Suffrage Movement, 1888-1903’. Deborah Jordan, Hecate, Vol. 30, Issue 2, 2004, pp. 81-102.

‘Coppertails and Silvertails’: Queensland Women and Their Struggle for the Political Franchise, 1889–1905’. Jessica Paten Queensland Review , Vol. 12, Issue 2, 2005.


Fatal Affray on Board the Ship Royal Dane, The Brisbane Courier , 4 Dec 1871, p. 3.

A Tragic Journey, The Week, 21 Dec 1889, p. 18.

Mrs Leontine Cooper’s Resignation, The Queenslander , 10 Mar 1894, p. 473.

Death of Mrs. Leontine Cooper, The Brisbane Courier , 13 Mar 1903, p. 4.

The Late Mrs. Leontine Cooper, The Brisbane Courier , 14 Mar 1903, p. 5.

Women’s World, The Brisbane Courier , 3 Aug 1903, p. 7.

Mrs. Leontine Cooper, The Week, 20 Mar 1903, p. 16.

Death of Mrs Léontine Cooper, The Queenslander, 21 Mar 1903, p. 654.

Comrade Mary, ‘In a Woman's Mind’ , The Worker, 21 Mar 1903, p. 5.

Online Resources

The Australian Women’s Register, 'Cooper, Leontine Mary Jane (1837-1903)'

‘Léontine Cooper', Wikipedia

'Léontine Cooper’, [A comprehensive listing of her writing], AUSTLIT

Chalaby, Joy ‘Léontine Cooper and the Queensland Woman: The Lives of Women and the Australian Gothic’

Trove: Cooper, Leontine Mary Jane (1837-1903)

Billiongraves, Leontine Mary Jane Cooper (Binsson)